This weekend Ulster Bank’s dedicated banking Hackathon is taking place in Dogpatch Labs and I met with some of the organisers to find out more about it.
I assumed that the primary purpose of the Hackathon is to develop a viable product, which is hacked together over the weekend, but as Robin Marshall, CIO of Ulster Bank explained the real primary purpose of the weekend is to have fun. Robin stated:
“It’s for people to come down to have a real engaging experience in a collaborative fun environment. Some of the participants will be very serious, they will have very clearly defined visions for problems that they can see that need a solution and other participants will have no experience what so ever in terms of either technology, design, development and architecture, and they will potentially bring a different perspective from a marketing or sales point of view. The key thing that we want everyone to take away from the event is the sense of involvement, engagement and fun. If on the back of that there are ideas which over the course of the weekend extend to beyond the minimal viable product that should attract the attention of potential investors then great but that’s not the raison d’être for doing this. The real purpose is to have fun, to encourage collaboration, to encourage thinking.”
On the first night of the Hackathon the teams are put together and this is one of the most interesting parts of the weekend. The participants, who come along with an idea, get to pitch their idea to the rest of the participants and after the pitching has finished, a form of speed dating takes place. During the speed dating the people with ideas hold court whilst the rest of the participants move around the room trying to match themselves with the ideas that they are attracted to and the vision that they can connect with. Ideally each team should have a broad mix of skills so that you don’t end up with the scenario of one team full of coders.
Another important ingredient that every Hackathon needs is mentors as they provide the support and advice needed to help each team develop a minimal viable product. Pauline Dooley the senior relations manager at Ulster Bank, mentioned that the mentors are very important as they come from different parts of the industry, will spend time with all the teams and they will also challenge the teams ideas and help shape them too. Of course the calibre of mentors is very important as their advice and also experience can help shape and mould a team. With the CIO of RBS on board as a mentor, other mentors include representatives from Accenture, Stripe and CurrencyFair.
When you are running bank Hackathons, everything has to run smoothly and that’s where Simon Redfern from the Open Bank Project lends a hand. The Open Bank Project, which Simon founded, is an open source project which aims to create the bridge between banks at the one end and technologies at the other end making the future of financial services by using an open source API and App store. Simon has helped organise and run 49 bank Hackathons and believes that by using open source API’s more people will be able to get involved as the software being used is readily available and already being used by the participants.
Liz McCarthy, who is in charge of Business Developments and Events at Dogpatch Labs, added that the hackathon is a great example of the type of partnership that is in operation on an ongoing basis between Ulster Bank and Dogpatch Labs. She also mentioned that the Hackathon is just one example of the many ways that Dogpatch Labs and Ulster Bank is actually engaging with the community, and that last week they were both involved with CoderDojo Hackathon. One thing that Liz felt was very important and really excited Dogpatch Labs was that the hackathon was an off the shelf concept that has been run in different parts of the world.
As it is the only Hackathon that is looking at banking services in Ireland, the organisers are aiming to make this the premier Fintech hackathon in Ireland. As Dogpatch Labs is establishing itself as the centre of Fintech in Ireland, running any Fintech Hackathon in there is a no brainer.